This week marks the USA Rugby Collegiate Sevens tournament for the women’s rugby team at Life University in Marietta, Georgia.
It’s one of the biggest rugby events of the year for the collegiate team, which has dominated the season winning 16 and losing only 1 match. The women are eager to compete and hope to make it to the championship game on Sunday. But they also feel deeply conflicted about participating.
The tournament is being hosted in Cary, North Carolina, where the state legislature recently passed a law (HB 2) that explicitly allows for discrimination against LGBT people. Not competing is not an option, in the mind of Life U’s women’s rugby team. But now they’re faced with a new challenge: How do we honor our values of inclusion, tolerance and fairness while competing in a state that has become the poster-child for discrimination?
Follow Georgia Unites for a three part series chronicling the journey of Life University’s women’s rugby team’s journey into the heart of the Tarheel State.
North Carolina’s HB 2 is one of the most egregious anti-LGBT laws in the nation. The law has sweeping negative ramifications, but it has earned national notoriety for requiring transgender North Carolinians to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate—effectively criminalizing their use of public facilities that align with the gender they live every.
With the championship tournament in North Carolina just around the corner, the Life U women’s rugby team knew they couldn’t sit on the sidelines while state-sanctioned discrimination went unchecked.
It’s frustrating to think that either myself or one of my teammates could be directly impacted by discrimination just because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. Without protections, our most immediate needs of finding a job with a steady income or renting an apartment for shelter are in jeopardy.
The team brainstormed various ideas about how they could show support for the LGBT community and stay true to Life University Athletics’ core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, sportsmanship and servant leadership—while still competing in the year-end tournament. “Ultimately we decided the most powerful thing we could do was to speak out and to help educate people on LGBT issues,” said one teammate Rachel Dorminy.
For many of the teammates, Life University and rugby as a sport have been safe havens of inclusivity and diversity.
Several of the women pointed proudly to the university’s gender-neutral bathrooms as a shining example of how the campus works to ensure all community members feel welcome. “It was a way to send the message: This is a safe place for everyone,” said the teammates.
When Life U implanted the gender-neutral facilities over a year ago, they issued a statement saying, “We (Life U) are committed to honoring the needs of all members of our community and our guests. [This is a] step forward in our efforts to recognize the needs of all our students, staff and faculty.”
Try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you had a child who is gay or transgender. How would you want them to feel?
But the women players are acutely aware that Life U’s culture of tolerance and acceptance doesn’t always extend beyond the campus.
“Our coach told us about one of her former co-workers,” said Life U player N’keiah Butler. “She identifies as a lesbian and wears her hair really short. One day she was literally chased out of a public bathroom because of the way she looked. It’s 2016 she still has the same problems she dealt with growing up. If that had been me, I would have been terrified.”
Most of the athletes say they feel lucky to have found accepting and open communities in rugby at Life U. But the fact is, Georgia still lacks state-wide LGBT non-discrimination protections. And with anti-LGBT laws like HB 2 passing in neighboring states, the threat of discrimination hits home hard.
“It’s frustrating to think that either myself or one of my teammates could be directly impacted by discrimination just because of our sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rachel. “Without protections, our most immediate needs of finding a job with a steady income or renting an apartment for shelter are in jeopardy. It’s really scary.”
All told though, the women’s rugby team at Life University thinks things are changing for the better. N’keiah confesses, “When I first came to Life U I didn’t know much about LGBT issues or what it means to be transgender.” But through rugby and general interactions with gay and transgender people, she came to realize that—like everyone else—they just want to be successful, happy, and to live their lives free of the threat of unfair treatment or harm.
“Just take a minute to think,” she said. “Try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you had a child who is gay or transgender. How would you want them to feel?”
And to Georgia lawmakers threatening to bring NC-style anti-trans discrimination to the Peach State in 2017, the women’s rugby team at Life U has a singular message: “We will bring a wall of defense.”
Stay tuned as Georgia Unites follows this inspiring group of women on their journey to the Tarheel State for a championship game that sparked their fight for justice.SHARE THIS STORY